Japanese-influenced Provenance’s reputation precedes it (it’s a two-hatted restaurant, after all) and it’s another ‘must-do’ for our Beechworth trip. In fact, we book our table there for Good Friday before we even think about booking anything else (including accommodation!). It doesn’t disappoint.
You may have noticed that I’m not the biggest fan of vegetables. It took me from a traumatic experience at my family kitchen table in 1992 until 2011 to try peas again, and I’ve never got over my dislike for onion. But this is Good Friday, and if any restaurant is going to impress me with their vegetarian degustation menu, it’s going to be Provenance.
We arrive bang on 7pm and walk to the door of the restaurant, housed in an old (1850s) bank. The large doors are shut to the cold, so we ring the bell to be ushered inside to the warm venue. Only a few tables are full, but it seems two tables are filled every half hour, so by the time we’re half way through our meal the restaurant’s full-up.
We’re offered the menus and I’m excited and interested to see something completely different to any of the reviews I’ve read so far – it’s clear the menu’s changed regularly, and is seasonally based. As tempting as it sounds, we skip the vegetarian degustation’s optional starter (I’ve just had the best chips of my life 90 minutes ago!) and we launch straight in.
Wine’s poured quickly, and bread and butter appears.
And it’s the most divine butter I’ve ever tasted – and I love my butter (case in point)! This smoked miso butter has been beautifully whipped and matches thick cuts of light bread: my tastebuds are tingling without the bread filling me up.
The first dish is beetroot, rose, radish fennel and pickled greens, with crackers. I think the crackers are there for texture, but they’re a little unnecessary. I thought the rose petals would be similarly superfluous, but they help bring the tart flavours of the dishes together. It’s served with a Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall (Muller-Thurgau). It’s like an apple-y Riesling.
The next dish is huge – roasted zucchini with coastal succulents – served with a Peter Lauer Riesling; the dish is acidic, and the wine’s meant to bring out the acidity, but I find it’s more salty than acidic. This is no criticism – the dish tastes healthy and is filling – it’s reminiscent of the milo-melo vegetable dish from Brooks.
Next is home grown dutch cream potato with buttermilk sauce (our second serving of buttermilk today!), cauliflower cooked and sliced raw, and with egg grated on top, served with a wine made by Julian Castagna’s son, Adam (Adam’s Rib) – a chardonnay viognier blend (rather delicious).
The buttermilk sauce and cauliflower are divine and, as ingredients, bounce off each other, but the dutch cream potatoes are a little floury and distracting.
Sake’s next – a small bottle, in fact. The tradition is that partners serve it for one another. I am not very skilled with these – beautiful, delicate – vessels and knock one of my sake servings (as you might be able to see above!) but there’s plenty more in the bottle. It’s delicious and a lovely intermission in the meal.
The sake’s also served with the scrambled eggs, garlic capers and roast sake lees. Now this is scrambled eggs! It’s buttery and garlicky, shiny and textural. The cabbage and onion distracts me a little – I’d rather it be served without it – but we agree this is a really impressive dish (it’s always the ones that looks simplest, isn’t it?).
While he’s got a competent team of waiters, I notice chef Michael Ryan delivers at least one dish to each table – and it’s now our turn. This is a lovely personal touch. The carrots have been cooked in carrot juice to make them more carroty (!). The chickpea fritters really shine through and match beautifully with the goat’s curd and tahini – I’d eat this three times over and wouldn’t get tired of it. It’s served with a Nebbiolo (popular red variety in the region) from Oxenbury Vineyard in Beechworth.
We’re offered another sake to finish, but our waiter warns us that it divides people, and she’ll happily bring us something else. She’s right – we don’t like it – but before we can tell her she arrives with a plum wine (and doesn’t take our first glass away, either!). It’s a simple but confident gesture.
And then: it’s time for the dish of the night.
This pumpkin and miso custard is like nothing I’ve ever tasted – this is a savoury and sweet delight. The custard is silky and packed with flavour and the textures of the barley and sorghum serve to highlight it. This dish is simply faultless.
For a simple, effective goodbye we’re offered a box of small sweets.
It’s a lovely experience, with quiet, confident presentation and an exciting menu – remember, I don’t like vegetables as a rule, so this speaks to how good the vegetarian degustation is.
There seem to be three waiters, as well as Michael, and while we have a ‘main’ (excellent) waiter, we are visited by all four. I loved the connection having one waiter gave us to the food and the overall experience at The Green Shed, and this would really lift the experience at Provenance.
But in short: if you know you’re going to be in Beechworth, the first thing you need to do is book yourself a spot here. You won’t be disappointed.
Date: Friday, 18 April 2014
Where: 86 Ford Street, Beechworth
Cost: $155 per person for six courses, including bread, and matching wines
Value for money: High
Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile
Want more? Try the website. You can also stay there!